Monday, September 16, 2013

What makes "The Fox" work?

If you're like me, even if you haven't seen "The Fox"  yet, you've seen someone link to it online, usually followed by comments such as  "What was THAT?" or "I don't know what happened…but it was awesome!!!" Here's the music video, made for a comedy TV show by the Norwegian duo Ylviz, which in about two weeks has captured 30 millions views:

What was that, you ask? Well, I'm going to attempt to explain, at least with regard to the music (
if you're interested in knowing more about the creators and creation of the "The Fox", read this BBC newsbeat). I think "The Fox" really makes fun of the insipidness of popular music lyrics while also being a great listen. These lyrics, especially at the very beginning, could be be written by a third grader. But if you are like me, after watching you'll stop and wonder "wait, aren't most popular music lyrics pretty dumb, anyway?" I think we've just accepted the themes of love and dancing and their family of inane diatribes, so we don't notice them anymore. The bridge's lyrics especially follow the convention of posing (faux) deep questions (over and over again) that really don't extend the song's meaning much.*

So, if they lyrics are a bust, what makes this song work? Crazy dancing and costumes are a plus, as are the alternating morose and intense expressions on the singer's faces. But people still love the song because of the music. These lyrics parody modern popular lyrics well precisely because of the quality music.

What sound's the music make?

While the music's impact comes from more than its structure, I'm going to focus here on how the form of "The Fox" keeps our interest. Starting with the verses, both are well-structured and varied. While the first verse is basically two series of short, similar phrases, the verse's second half gains momentum by 1) adding the high synth hook from the introduction, and 2) an eighth-note drum figure building up to the pre-chorus pause. The second verse, usually a throw-away in most popular music, is more interesting, even though it's 1.5 times as long as the first. The extra length comes in the second series of short phrases, as the accompaniment drops out and the spotlight is on the close, two-part vocal harmony. Then, we have a bonus third series of phrases (an interesting melodic variation of the first two) in which we again hear the welcome intro high synth hook.

The chorus, while a nice change of beat, is kind of repetitive and long. All those silly sounds, though, actually serves to prolong our interest. The songwriters can extend the chorus much longer because the listeners are just wondering what the next random nonsense solo jam will be.

Finally, the song's
unconventional bridge plays a major part in it's feeling. The bridge comes right out of the the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" playbook—instead of finishing up with the chorus (which is normal), the bridge music takes over and out to the song's end. The song's end may not sound like the beginning of the bridge, as the texture of the music changes, but the underlying chords and melody remain the same. The decision to extend the bridge may have something to do with the sheer length of the verses—it would have been too long to cycle back to the chorus. Or, perhaps, they couldn't think up any more nonsense breaks. Or perhaps the non-return of the chorus makes us internally uncomfortable, which would be consistent with the strange comedy of the video. Whatever the reason, the extended bridge works. The songwriters did add to the bridge some continuity with the chorus, though, as the beat is similar and the fox is given his own nonsense jam right at the end (perhaps answering the song's central question?).

Do you like "The Fox?" Why or why not? Did my breakdown of the musical form help you make sense of the song and video?

Vocab: hook, bridge

*For example, how about Taio Cruz's song "Dynamite", which could totally be inspiration for "The Fox", especially this bridge:

"I’m gonna take it all, I’m gonna be the last one standing.
Higher over all, I’m gonna be the last one landing.
Cause I, I, I believe it, and I, I, I, I just want it all, I just want it all…"
Is the singer getting a big prize from dancing for a long time? How does being the last one standing make you higher than other people, figuratively or literally? What does he want all of?

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